Stu Walters / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds took the first match of a very important late season series getting past the Winnipeg Wesmen 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 18-25, 25-22) in an early afternoon game at War Memorial Gym Friday night.
It was an important battle for playoff positioning with just two weeks left in the regular season as the two teams came into action tied for eighth place in the Canada West standings with identical 7-11 records.
Matt Neaves recorded a game-high 20 kills and added seven digs for the T-Birds while Michael Dowhaniuk registered 19 kills and five digs. Jordan Deshane put up a game-high four service aces and Ben Hooker chipped in with a game-high 43 assists and added nine digs. Danny Aspenlieder added nine kills.
For the Wesmen, Daniel Thiessen matched the game-high 20 kills and added seven digs while Ethan Duncan recorded 11 kills and four digs. Adrian Dyck added eight kills and nine digs.
"I thought we did a good job of weathering Winnipeg's storm," said UBC head coach Michael Hawkins. "They're a tough team to play, they play really tough defence, they don't make a ton of errors and really force you to earn your points. I thought we came out the gate playing well and fairly clean and once they pushed back I thought we did a good job of responding in the fourth set."
The T-Birds took a close opening set 25-22, after leading 16-15 at the technical timeout it was the Wesmen that clawed back for an eventual 20-19 advantage causing UBC to call a timeout. The quick break served to spark the home side and Neaves in particular who collected three straight demonstrative kills for a 22-21 before Deshane added another of his set high three service aces and a 23-21 lead. As set point approached, it was Neaves that would be heard from again with his team high fifth kill in the set to claim the opening frame 25-22. For the visitors, it was Thiessen leading the way with a set high six kills followed by Duncan with four kills.
The early highlight of the second set was a entertaining extended back and forth rally that ended with Aspenlieder's kill to even the proceedings 6-6. UBC would enjoy a 16-13 lead at the technical timeout which was extended minutes later to 19-14 thanks to an emphatic block by the 'Birds Joel Regehr. Thiesen would add to his kill count on the next play bringing the Wesmen within four points, trailing 19-15 before two consecutive kills from Dowhaniuk who had a set-high seven put UBC in front 21-15. After each team exchanged timeouts it was Neaves who would be heard from again with one of his four kills in the set giving UBC a 23-19 lead. The Wesmen would respond with a kill from Jones before teaming up with Mikael Clegg for a block but two more kills from Neaves would secure a second straight 25-22 set win for the T-Birds.
The Wemen responded in the third set with a .324 attacking percentage compared to the T-Birds who struggled with an uncharacteristic .122 en route to falling 25-18. With the score tied at 9-9 the Wesmen would go on a 10-3 scoring run highlighted by three Thiessen kills, one block and a service ace giving the visitors a 19-12 advantage. Duncan added a block and two kills for Winnipeg behind Thiessen's seven kills in the set. For the 'Birds Neaves led the way with seven kills while Dowhaniuk chipped in with four kills.
The T-Birds would bounce back in the fourth frame which was highlighted by one of Dowhaniuk's set-high six kills, with the score tied at 15-15, the native of White Rock, B.C. went sky high to beat the block and a 16-15 lead at the technical timeout. Other significant points for the hosts came courtesy of a Zec Johnson service ace to make it 23-19 before Deshane won a jousting battle at the net for a 24-20 set point lead and an eventual 25-22 victory. Thiessen and Duncan each recorded four kills in the set.
"This one was big, we've been talking all semester that it's just one step up that mountain at a time," added Hawkins. "This weekend is big for positioning and this afternoon was satisfying in setting ourselves well for tomorrow."
With the win, the T-Birds improve to 8-11 and take over sole possession of eight place in the CW standings while the Wesmen fall to 7-12 and just behind the 'Birds in ninth spot. The same two teams will continue their jockeying for post season position when they meet again Saturday night with a 6:30 p.m. start at War Memorial Gym.
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds